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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Tue, 08 May 2012

Ubuntu 12.04 and Unity -- I'm ready

We users of Linux are a fickle lot. We flit here and there, from one distro to another, even to a BSD on occasion.

I've been "loyal" to Debian for a couple years now. It works. But it's time for a change.

Given the demise of GNOME 2 in favor of the radically reimagined GNOME 3, I've been "auditioning" everything from CrunchBang (Openbox with Xfce's Thunar file manager) and Bodhi (Enlightenment) to Fedora (GNOME 3 and Xfce), Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Lubuntu and Debian Wheezy.

I go back and forth on GNOME 3 and Unity. Sometimes I think I can be productive in these very different environments. Other times I wonder what's wrong with having a traditional application menu.

Honestly, despite what I've written before, right now I can't decide between GNOME 3 and Unity. I'm also still looking at Xfce, which I've used in the past and wouldn't hesitate to turn to in the present and future.

As I've written recently, I quite like Xfce as implemented in Xubuntu 12.04. There are a lot of small touches that make the environment look -- and sometimes work -- just a little better. I'd say Fedora is somewhat behind Xubuntu design-wise in terms of its out-of-the-box Xfce implementation. And Debian will be pushing stock Xfce. That's what Debian does.

Luckily I'm figuring out what Xubuntu is doing to customize its own Xfce implementation. It's not too hard to change the theming in any given Xfce system. You can still shrink and change fonts and do all those things you used to be able to do in GNOME 2 but can't do (easily anyway) in either Unity or GNOME 3.

Despite my flirtation with Xfce, I'm feeling like I really need to give both Unity and GNOME 3 a shot.

I've done a few dozen installations over the past year, a mixture of BSDs (Open-, Net- and DragonFly-) and Debian. But I haven't reinstalled on my main laptop since late 2010. I have backups. I'm ready to do this.

So unless I change my mind -- and that could very well happen -- I will be running Ubuntu 12.04 soon (and will write a "real" review at some stop along the way).

I'm leaving the politics of Ubuntu/Canonical, Red Hat/Fedora/GNOME, SABDFLs and the like aside and looking at the actual operating environments themselves.

The question: What works for me?

I really don't think Unity and GNOME 3 are all that far apart. I don't see a clear "winner" when they're stacked up against one another.

And I'm sure through extensions and other tweaks that one environment can be made to look and work more like the other than it does now.

But I'm not in the mood to tweak endlessly.

What I've learned from my time in both Unity and GNOME 3 is that you can certainly use the mouse, but you can get a lot done with keyboard shortcuts. I like it, in a way, but it seems pre-GUI in another. Discoverability via mouse is weakened in both of these systems. I'm not sure why, especially given the push toward keyboard-poor mobile and TV systems in Ubuntu (and to some extent in GNOME 3 as well).

In any event, my plan is to do a Ubuntu installation soon enough, get my files back on it, and see how I feel about a distribution that has taken quite a pasting from those who used to love everything about it.